The best Italian Christmas cookies: there is no icing or any colourful hundreds of thousands in sight, but don't be deceived by appearances, for these spicy medieval "biscotti" from Tuscany are delicious. Only your true love would let you eat the last one!
Even without a sugar coating, silver sugar balls or a dip of chocolate, these centuries old Tuscan cookies baked for Christmas "Natale", are eaten with delight in our household: the last one being very much coveted, especially by me! (I'm even eating one now as I type this as its December and that's my excuse!)
This recipe is our Grandmother Nonna Alvara's, who usually makes them together with her friend in one or others kitchen in Firenze at the beginning of December and gives them as gifts in pretty cellophane bags brought just for the occasion tied with red ribbon and delivered with "abbracci", affection.
They date back to the sixteenth century in Massa Marittima in Maremma, where they are still made today.
The quantities in this recipe will make a lovely large batch: enough for you to give some away and still have plenty to serve as a dessert after the fruit course at lunch or dinner. (They go great with a cup of coffee too!)
The Italian name for these Christmas cookies is "Cavallucci biscotti", or, "dolci Senese Natanese", or "morsetti". They Originate from sixteenth century Siena and Massa Marittima in Tuscany, where they were traditionally exchanged as gifts at Christmas time and eaten by postal workers as a quick and nutritious sustenance whilst their horses were being changed-over. Hence their name, as horse in Italian is, "cavallo".
Their recipe has changed very little since they were first recorded in 1515, albeit castor sugar now commonly substituted for honey, and in Massa Marittima, they were shared at every holiday! No wonder I love that place!
25 grams of mixed spice (or make up your own as the Italian ladies do from cinnamon, nutmeg etc. Mixed spice in bottles or packets that I was used to readily finding in UK supermarkets is difficult to find in Italy.)
25 grams of aniseed
25 grams of coriander
20 grams of cooking ammonium bicarbonate
250 grams of chopped candied orange and lemon peel
800 grams of roughly chopped walnuts
1 kilo of castor sugar
1.5 kilo plain flour, and a little extra for dusting etc
3 glasses of water
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Flour well a baking tray.
2. Put the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
3. In a saucepan, add the castor sugar and water, stir together, and boil for three minutes.
4. Add the spices to the hot sugar and continue to boil for a further two to three minutes.
5. Add the chopped candied peel and walnuts to the sugar mix and continue to boil for a couple of minutes.
6. Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and pour it into the well in flour. Stir together.
7. Then add the ammonia to the mixture and stir again to incorporate well.
8. Taking walnut-sized pieces of the cookie mixture, roll them into balls in the palms of your hands (you may need to flour your hands a little) and flatten slightly.
9. Place on the baking tray allowing space between each one to expand and allow to cool a little.
10. Remove any excess flour from the baking tray and bake for a maximum of ten minutes.
The Cavallucci cookies are traditionally served with a glass of Italian dessert wine, especially Vin Santo - Tuscany's "holy wine" - or Aleatico, Marsala, Moscato or Passito wine.
This time, crunchy Tuscan almond "biscotti" that, together with a small glass of sweet Vin Santo wine, make for one of the simplest but most divine Italian desserts. Served in restaurants throughout Tuscany and in homes after dinner, these traditional biscuits are also perfect with a morning cup of coffee. Try this recipe - the best one - and you won't by shop brought cookies again!
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